Chapter 43 Thirteen Year Old Poker-face

“So you were his childhood friend.”

Zhang Haike nodded, lit a cigarette, and said, “Yes, you can say that. He and I started training together. I know a lot of things—including his habits and preferences—better than you do. If you want to listen, I can tell you all about him.”

I still had some doubts on whether to believe him or not, but Fatty said, “Speak quickly. But I’m telling you, if I find a flaw, we won’t be able to talk.”

“Rest assured,” Zhang Haike said, “for better cooperation and to fulfill my purposes, I’ll never lie to you.” When he said this, he winked at Zhang Haixing, who got up and left.

Then, Zhang Haike sighed and said to me, “When he was born, a great thing happened to our Zhang family. This was the beginning of everything and the root of our decline.”

Zhang Haike really had no talent for storytelling. When he spoke, it was like a hammer in the east and a mallet in the west. (1) Fatty looked mystified as he listened. I was definitely better off than Fatty since I was good at summarizing and organizing, which gave me an advantage. Besides, I already had a certain understanding of the Zhang family and—theoretically—the whole incident, so I’ve recorded what Zhang Haike said in my own language.

For a long time, intermarriage in the Zhang family had been very strict. The family was very strong and could control almost everything. Intermarriage was generally done among the main branch, but fortunately, the family was large and there were no awkward problems.

But Little Brother was an outlier of the family. No one knew who his mother was. It should have been a cold winter when Little Brother’s father returned to the family with him. When his father went to Nepal to deliver a batch of goods, he was gone for a long time, and when he came back, he was holding a baby in his arms.

Without a mother’s care, Little Brother grew up in a chaotic environment without even knowing who his father was. The family’s huge, thriving system made him unable to distinguish himself from others. To a large extent, this was the reason why Little Brother was unwilling to talk more.

In Zhang Haike’s description, the Zhang family’s mansion at that time was located in the mountainous area of Jinling. It consisted of seven buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties that were connected together, with as many as thirteen entrances in the front and back. This was only the residence of the main Zhang family. Although the whole village and dozens of other branch families were surnamed Zhang and controlled many people, the status of the Zhang family’s main branch was much higher than that of the other families.

Zhang Haike was a child belonging to a branch of the Zhang family, so he had very few chances to go to the big house.

Most of the children in the Zhang family were arrogant, so when Zhang Haike occasionally entered the compound to pay New Year’s greetings, those children weren’t willing to play with him.

Zhang Haike actually didn’t care, because for him, there was a tacit understanding that the authority represented by the main Zhang family only derived from the support of the branch families.

He believed that people in the branch families could live more freely since the main family had so many rules and restrictions. But what Zhang Haike was particularly concerned about was that he often saw a very lonely child in the Zhang family’s mansion. This child didn’t talk or play with the other children and just stood quietly in the courtyard or under the verandah beside the courtyard, looking at that sliver of sky in a daze.

Zhang Haike thought it was very strange and just assumed this child was very special, which made him curious to know more. Moreover, this child wasn’t liked by others in the family, which made him feel like he had found a kindred spirit.

On one occasion, his father took him to the main house to do business. While his father and the other clansmen discussed things together, he wandered alone in the mansion’s courtyard and saw the child again. The child was Zhang Qiling, who was only three years old at that time. Zhang Haike thought for a moment, plucked up his courage, walked towards him, and asked, “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you playing with them?”

The child looked at him, shook his head, and said nothing. This was the first conversation between Zhang Haike and Zhang Qiling.

That day, Zhang Haike stayed in the courtyard with Little Brother. Zhang Haike had a strange tenacity and felt that as long as he kept talking, the child would eventually say something and communicate with him. But this time, he had met his match.

The child had been listening quietly and looking at the sky, so Zhang Haike wasn’t sure if he was actually listening or if he even cared. When Zhang Haike left, he thought to himself, is the kid sick? Abnormal? Can’t talk? Or does he simply not understand what I’m saying?

After this meeting, it was ten years before they met for the second time. At that time, Zhang Haike was already fifteen years old. The Zhang children had to undergo very strict training from an early age and had very strict jumping and skill requirements. Fifteen was a very important checkpoint for them, because after they reached fifteen years of age, the Zhang children could search for ancient tombs and build up their reputation. The Zhang family called this event “release into the wild.”

Ten years later, Little Brother should have been about thirteen years old, so Zhang Haike was especially surprised when he saw Little Brother—who was one head shorter than him—standing among a group of children who were going to be “released into the wild”.

“Release into the wild” was a very, very dangerous event and many of the Zhang children died as a result of it. But thanks to the Zhang family’s very strict training, these things slowly began to improve after several generations.

The Zhang family’s children knew from an early age that “release into the wild” was a very dangerous thing, so they all trained very hard. Of course, there were also some children who gave up this kind of training very early on in order to avoid this danger. On the one hand, they wouldn’t be able to fight for any position in the family, but on the other hand, they also saved their own lives.

“Release into the wild” was often an event that disregarded the consequences. This was because one of the Zhang family’s basic thoughts was: they only need to complete this thing; the means are irrelevant. So, many of the children traveled together to rob ancient tombs, and in this way, there were a large number of people and everyone could work together.

Zhang Haike found that Little Brother didn’t seem to have such a plan. When everyone was packing their bags and preparing their food and transportation, Little Brother was already silently on his way.

Zhang Haike was a person who had a wide range of friends. At that time, he discussed with several of them which area was suitable for robbing tombs. One of his friends knew where to get the layout of an ancient Shanxi tomb, which was said to be a cunning feat. As long as they got there, they could easily get the antiques.

This was also allowed in the Zhang family, because the source of information and the mastery of intelligence were all very important abilities. If Zhang Haike had followed them, then he basically wouldn’t have had any problems with this test, and what happened later wouldn’t have occurred. But Zhang Haike watched the thirteen-year-old kid going on his way all alone and couldn’t help but feel a little worried.

Zhang Haike was a person who hated the family system a lot, which was why he had such a strong aversion to the main family. He didn’t like the rules and regulations set by the main family and thought that it was very unfair for a thirteen-year-old child to be forced to travel alone.

He heard from some of the other children that the kid’s father had passed away when he was seven or eight years old and he was taken care of and brought up by his uncles. Although he wasn’t mistreated, the child didn’t have much love or happiness and was still so quiet. He thought that maybe some people in the family didn’t want him to continue living.

At that time, Zhang Haike was very confident in his abilities. He not only trained his fingers to be much more powerful than ordinary people’s, but he had also achieved a certain degree of speed. As a result, he was almost considered a rare grave robber at that time.

Back then, Little Brother was still a very small and thin child, and the strength and length of his fingers weren’t particularly prominent. He was only thirteen years old, after all. There was also the fact that he looked like he would be blown over with a gust of wind. It made Zhang Haike feel that he was definitely going to run into trouble, so he chose to part from his friends and protect this little boy from the Zhang family. This was perhaps the best decision of his life.

<Chapter 42> <Table of Contents><Chapter 44>


TN Notes:

(1) Think this means his story lacks perspective and has too much going on (i.e., it’s hard to follow)


Shew! I’m KO’ed lol. I haven’t been this productive in translating in a while. Knocked out 40 pages for you guys today AND didn’t leave you on a giant cliffhanger hahahaha. I’m not really liking the Zhang family right now. Feel like they’ve been playing Wu Xie and Fatty dirty from the beginning. I honestly thought maybe Wu Xie and Fatty were trippin’ on the plant thing they found in the head lama’s room, not hallucinating because of those damn bells. Zhang family is EVIL! Boo! I want Poker-face back!

Sidenote: I FINALLY finished Sand Sea last night and I thought it was really cool how they referenced some of the things we’ve covered in this book (the temple, Poker-face’s statue, and the painting just to name a few).

Updated 12/20/2021


4 thoughts on “Chapter 43 Thirteen Year Old Poker-face

  1. I don’t like this people too. One day they hit him in the head another day want to be friend and asking for help and still speak proudly about themselves. poor Xiao Ge lived with this kind of relatives.
    Thank you so much for translation.


  2. Да меня тоже постигло чувство разочарования от семейки Чжан, но я другого и не ожидала, если честно. Оказывается мысль про Дон Кана – торговца, что застрял в горах, оказалась верной? Это его отец. А мать – та, женщина-труп? Жаль Сяо Гэ…
    И мне кажется, тут Чжан Хайке не прав – Сяо Гэ отпустили в “мир” скорее всего, потому что он показал себя достойным этого?


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